Trojan APT hits DoD smart cards

A variant of the Sykipot Trojan Horse is able to hijack U.S. Dept. of Defense (DoD) smart cards in order to access restricted resources.


ISSSourceA variant of the Sykipot Trojan Horse is able to hijack U.S. Dept. of Defense (DoD) smart cards in order to access restricted resources.

“We recently discovered a variant of Sykipot with some new, interesting features that allow it to effectively hijack DoD and Windows smart cards,” said Jaime Blasco, a security researcher at AlienVault. “This variant, which appears to have been compiled in March 2011, has been seen in dozens of attack samples from the past year.”

Smart cards interface with computers through a special reader. They use digital certificates and PIN codes for authentication purposes.

Sykipot commonly sees use in advanced persistent threat (APT) attacks. The Sykipot variant analyzed by AlienVault contains several commands to capture smart card information and use it to access secure resources, Blasco said.

One of the variant’s routines works with ActivIdentity ActivClient, an authentication software product compliant with DoD’s Common Access Card (CAC) specification.

The CAC enables access to DoD computers, networks, and certain facilities. It allows users to encrypt and digitally sign emails and it facilitates the use of public key infrastructure (PKI) for authentication purposes.

This Sykipot variant reads the smart card certificates registered on the victim’s computer, steals the card’s PIN number using a keylogger module and uses the information to log into protected resources, as long as the card remains inside the reader, Blasco said. In essence, it becomes a smart card proxy.

“While Trojans that have targeted smart cards are not new, there is obvious significance to the targeting of a particular smart card system in wide deployment by the U.S. DoD and other government agencies, particularly given the nature of the information the attackers seem to be targeting for exfiltration,” Blasco said.

Sykipot went out last month as part of an APT attack against companies from the telecommunications, manufacturing, computer hardware, chemical and defense industries. According to AlienVault, the Trojan’s main command and control servers are in China, although its creators will sometime use U.S.-based servers to route the stolen information in order to avoid detection.

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